Yesterday, Joe Biden announced that his administration would implement vaccine mandates for all federal employees and those of federal contractors. He also said that he would urge the Labor Department to look into requiring vaccines for companies that have more than 100 employees. Conservatives screamed about government overreach and denying people’s rights. One commentator tweeted, “Well I guess we’ve settled the question of whether Trump voters are coming out in the midterms . . .” I don’t think so.
I don’t like mandates, but I also don’t like pandemics shutting down our lives because of the obstinance of the few. I don’t believe that we should be forced to share space with people who refuse to take action to protect the health of others. I also don’t like the disinformation campaigns that have parroted the lies of Donald Trump claiming the pandemic is a Democratic hoax or that the virus will just go away or that it’s no worse than the flu. And I like even less the right-wing media outlets and Republican elected officials who refuse to rebuke the disinformation or even help spread it.
If conservative outlets spent half as much time promoting the vaccine as they have screaming about the injustice of the mask mandates and vaccine passports, we would probably be out of this mess. Instead, they have reinforced skepticism of the vaccine. They haven’t just undermined faith in government, they’ve undermined faith in doctors, scientists, and researchers by pushing disinformation and junk science. Their followers threaten overworked nurses and doctors promoting vaccines, while listening to talk radio show hosts who later die of COVID.
We’ve had vaccine mandates since the beginning of the Republic. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington mandated that all troops get vaccinated for small pox. Back then, vaccines were much more risky and Washington worried that the mandates would hurt recruitment. However, small pox was killing more soldiers than the British, so he did what needed to be done. COVID has literally reduced our life expectancy, increasing the number of deaths in 2020 by almost 18%.
In addition, we have vaccine mandates to enter public schools and have for decades. In recent years, the anti-vax parents were derided by both liberals and conservatives and most their claims have long ago been debunked. As a result, we no longer worry about polio or mumps or measles or rubella.
Politically, the mandate won’t hurt Biden, especially if it’s successful. If we don’t see spikes of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID in the spring and summer next year, he will get credit for taming the disease. And Trumpers won’t go to the polls because, with the pandemic under control, they will have moved on to their next outrage. COVID will be a distant memory.
While Republicans and conservatives are giddy over Biden’s poor poll numbers right now, they may be disappointed next year. If society has returned to some semblance of normal and the economy continues to grow, Biden will tout ending the war in Afghanistan and ending the pandemic. If he gets his infrastructure bill and budget passed, his presidency will be the most successful in decades, even if the midterms are miserable. Think Reagan, 1982.